FARMINGTON — The Regional School Unit 9 Board of Directors heard a presentation on social-and-emotional learning (SEL) at the board’s Thursday, June 23, meeting.

The discussion on SEL was a part of a presentation on the “Our Learning Environment and Culture” portion of RSU 9’s new strategic plan.

The district has been working on establishing a new strategic plan since the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

The board has since approved mission and vision statements which address the district’s “community,” “culture” and “curriculum.”

At the board meeting, Director of Curriculum Laura Columbia led a presentation with Liz LeClair, a commercial-arts teacher at Mt. Blue Campus and Angela Ostiguy, a social worker at Mt. Blue Middle School.

Ostiguy first read out CASEL’s definition of SEL for the board as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop skills” including managing emotions, showing empathy for others, forming supportive relationships, and making responsible, caring decisions.


The CASEL website adds that SEL can support priorities including response to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health, civic learning and workforce preparation.

LeClair said that nevertheless, SEL can mean something different to everyone.

The three then led the board in an interactive activity to read research on SEL and then break down their personal feelings about the information in three categories: “The Head, what are you thinking about?” “Heart – what are you feeling?” and “Hands – what does this make you want to do?”

Director Gloria McGraw said “the head” made her think about burnout rates among teachers, many of whom have said “they didn’t want to go to school in the morning.”

“That really hit me, listening to that,” McGraw said. “I don’t ever remember hearing teachers say ‘I didn’t want to get up and come in today.’ That’s a biggie, we’ve got to address that, obviously.”

Director Betsey Hyde said the “head” category reminded her of a forum she attended with parents in the RSU 9 district a couple of weeks ago.


“The primary focus of that was how terrible SEL is. I just sat there scratching my head, I don’t understand. Everything that I’ve read to date, including what I just read … I’m all about it,” Hyde said. “I struggle with the fact that it’s getting a bad rap, but I think like lots of things today, people are misinformed and it gets a bad rap.”

Columbia agreed that some people do have a “perception” of SEL.

However, she said that a lot of SEL’s principals are what was asked for in data from a strategic-planning survey conducted at the end of 2021.

“A lot of kids and people are successful because they have these skills, they can manage their emotions, they know how to make decisions, they can have difficult conversations,” Columbia said. “[Parents and students] want these skills, these work-skills, lifelong skills. I do think they hear ’emotional’ [and think] it’s about ‘let’s everyone talk about our feelings. But it’s so much deeper than that.”

Hyde added that she’s seen struggling students grow into successful adults because of SEL and the ability to have strong relationships with mentors, “discuss hard things and work through feelings.”

“We’re trying to prepare our students to succeed in our community and be able to take on these challenges,” LeClair responded.


Columbia, Ostiguy and LeClair also shared statistics on why they “believe in SEL.”

Data from adolescent and mental health researchers Joseph A. Durlack and Joseph. L. Mahoney shows that there are several benefits to “adding an SEL program,” which include:

• “27% more students would improve their academic performance at the end of the program.”

• “57% more would gain in their skills levels.”

• “24% more would have improved social behaviors and lower levels of distress.”

• “23% more would have improved attitudes.”


• “22% more would show fewer conduct problems.”

Columbia additionally presented data from a survey for teachers and staff at RSU 9, which will be conducted annually for the next five years.

Of the 174 teachers and 124 staff members who responded:

• “96.6% of teachers and 83.3% of staff believe it is the school’s responsibility to make sure that students have connections with adults at school.”

• When asked “how supportive are students in their interactions with each other,” 3.4% of respondents said “extremely supportive,” 44.8% said “quite supportive,” 35.1% said “somewhat supportive,” 14.4% said “slightly supportive,” and 2.3% said “not at all supportive.”

• “66.7% to 67.5% of respondents reported their working environments to be quite/extremely positive,”


• “33.9% to 34.7% of adults responded saying the available professional development opportunities are quite/extremely valuable.”

Following the data presentation, RSU 9 Board of Directors Chair Carol Coles said seeing the district’s academic successes is “all about that connecting with adults and other students in a setting that’s supportive.”

McGraw then asked what kind of time teachers have to do this kind of education.

“From my aspect, being a social worker, you know what our hope is it becomes ingrained in what we do, and how we interact with kids,” Ostiguy responded.

LeClair added that with an SEL and trauma-informed background, “as a classroom teacher … I really get to know [my students] and read them. So if they come in and I can just tell they’re off, I might alter a lesson … I can shift the direction of the assignment so that it becomes SEL reflective, a more relaxed thing for them.”

“Our goal is that everyone might be able to do that. But there’s lots of things to talk about. And time is a big thing that we discussed as well,” LeClair said.

Columbia explained that the committee’s next steps are to focus on CASEL’s social-and-emotional learning framework, “looking at getting a stronger student voice,” and “researching and implementing curriculum focused on learning social skills and life skills.”

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